'Help GPs to compete against firms'

PCTs must level the playing field for GP providers to bid on equal terms for the new practice opportunities opened up in Lord Darzi's interim report, according to the chairman of the NHS Alliance.

GP practices must be offered access to the business expertise they need to put in bids to rival large outsider companies for the 100 new practices and 150 new health centres.

Otherwise inner cities could be handed over to healthcare companies offering extended hours and easy access but no family medicine or holistic care, Dr Mike Dixon, a GP in Devon warned.

'Given that PCTs' job is to create a provider market, there needs to be a means whereby they can help NHS bodies and develop providers they are happy with to enable them to put in bids,' Dr Dixon said.

The NHS Alliance is calling for the abolition of the rules on commercial secrecy so that private companies tendering against NHS bodies obey the same rules of transparency.

In its response to government demands for better access to GPs, the Alliance backs Lord Darzi's plans for new practices and health centres in service-deprived areas.

But in Primary Care and GP Access, its position statement, the Alliance warns that new practices must be opened in places with the lowest doctor-patient ratios.

It dismisses as 'puzzling' Lord Darzi's call for new surgeries to open in the PCTs in the lowest quartile for provision and insists on local consultation 'at the earliest possible stage'.

The Alliance suggests 'innovative solutions', such as 'the virtual health centre, consisting of a group of GP practices and community facilities that share their facilities and services'.

prisca.middlemiss@haymarket.com

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